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Golf destination test center: The Louisiana Audubon Golf Trail

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

NEW ORLEANS - If you can get past the music, the food, thefishing and the hunting, there's golf in this here bayou. Evidentially,goodtimes aren't the only thing rolling in the other "L-A." FromSha-reev-pautto Nawlens, putts are rolling fast and firm along the greens of theAudubonGolf Trail.

The AGT is a collection of nine dogged golf outposts that span theentiretyof the Bayou State. The facilities are connected by a series of highwaysandbyways riddled with things to see, do and eat along the way. As for thesnazzy title: the Trail gets its name from artist John JamesAudubon, vaunted painter of birds and all things natural andwild.

By sheer coincidence, each track on the AGT must also be in good standing with the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary - vaunted protector of birds and all things natural and wild (those of you searching for a place to drive governor-free golf carts at break-neck speeds, wrong Audubon.)

The buzz along the Trail these days is about the AGT's two newestmembers:Carter Plantation, designed by local boy made PGA Tour player DavidToms,and the freshly minted Tournament Players Club of Louisiana, from thewonderfully warped mind of Pete Dye. Both Carter and the TPC held grandopenings within the past three weeks, and the TGG test drivers weren'tfarbehind.

So without further adeaux, the Travel Golf Guy golf destination testdrivekicks it into overdrive in the Big Easy. Last time out on the testcourse(Gulf Shores, Ala.) we gave you the blow-by-blow. This time around weshiftgears and rank our top AGT experiences.

5. OakWing Golf Club - OakWing Golf Club is located in Alexandria in the heart of the woebegone England Air Force Base. It's a people and price golf course, to be sure. As in, the people treat you like family and the price is always right. These folks have football and gumbo running through their veins, so what else would you expect?

If you're looking for scented towels and flashy bag tags, you've landedonthe wrong part of the Audubon Golf Trail. OakWing has a muni feel to it,what with high school golfers out walking the links and greasy burgersfrying up in the clubhouse. Eighteen holes with a cart runs just under$40on the weekends and under $30 on weekdays. Twilight rates are availableandwalking is not only permitted, it's encouraged.

4. TPC of Louisiana, New Orleans - If golf courses could feel pressure, the new TPC of Louisiana would be a mess of nerves. Not only has the AGT already tapped it as the Trail's marquee course, the HP Classic of New Orleans moves here next year after a successful run at nearby English Turn. Oh, and whispers are that future Super Bowl procurements also hinge on the course's ability to host A-List corporate outings. Anyone else want to pile on?

Says here that the TPC should perform gracefully under theseexpectations,despite some repetitive design features (psst . put a bet on the nextholehaving a waste bunker down the left side) and a hefty price tag for thispart of the world (around $150). There are some good holes (love thatwideopen numero uno) and some average ones (17 is a let down if only becauseofthe precedent Dye has set for penultimate par 3s). But they are alltiedtogether by a set of silky smooth Mini Verde Bermuda greens that wouldmakebentgrass blush.

3. Tamahka Trails/Paragon Casino, Marksville - Golfing and gaming is a combo that is working wonders from Upstate New York to the Desert Southwest. Far be it from Tunica-Biloxi Tribe not to get in on the action. Tamahka Trails is a stellar Steve Smyers design with enough steep faced bunkers and overall brawn to host a 2001 U.S. Open Qualifier.

For the full effect, roll some puts on Smyers 7,019, par-71 brute thenrollthe bones back in the Paragon. The Las Vegas style casino houses some21,000slot machines and 50 gaming tables. For a casino in the sticks, theactioncarries on through the night. There are also four restaurants and adeluxehotel in which to rest your tired, broke body. Counseling notincluded.

2. Carter Plantation, Springfield - Conspiracytheoriesabound as to how Toms and local shaper turned designer Glen Hickey couldcraft a golf course this good 1) with no architectural drawings, and 2)their first time around:

Dye, disguised as a local insurance salesman, made a handful of sitevisitsincognito; Toms sold out LSU football plays to University of Floridaalumnusand golf course architect Ron Garl for technical advice - the list goesonand on. Truth is, the unlikely duo just hit one out of the park on theirfirst at bat.

Toms and Hickey can't even fall back on the hackneyed "we just let thelanddictate the layout," excuse seeing as how they tossed around over600,000cubic yards of earth. The result is a course that challenging at times,anddown right interesting at others. There's even a surprising amount ofelevation change for a state known to exist primarily below sea level. That thing sticking up in the middle of the 588-yard par-5 15th could even be mistaken for a hill.

1. New Orleans - No matter how strong the pull of the AGT becomes, New Orleans will always be the state's primary callingcard.The music alone is worth a three-day stay - jazz, blues and Zydecoconvergein an explosion of sound in and around Bourbon Street. Sampling the various Cajun and Creole eateries is worth another couple of days.

TGG Test Drive Score: 2.5 out of 5.

Sticker Price: $100 - $250 per person, per day,dependingoncourse and accommodations. Does not include travel expenses betweenstops.Call (877) 646-5352 for package quotes, or log on toaudubontrail.com.

Comments: The AGT is a tough sell to the travelinggolfer.For one, the courses are spread out hither and yon. The boot shapedstate issneaky long, too, from north to south. And as of this writing, no stoponthe Trail contains more than one 18-hole member. As far asHeritage/Ecotourism with a healthy dose of golf, the AGT is hard tobeat.The Trail should appeal to road trippers who want to sample the wares ofoneother worldly state.

Next test drive: Palm Springs golf resort wrap: HyattGrandChampions, Marriott Rancho Las Palmas, and PGA West.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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